After a midnight vow to be a better person in 2008, I returned to Orlando with a renewed optimism for making the most of my time at UCF. With my bar tending school tuition in the bank and my escape plan in progress, I figured I didn’t have much to lose in putting myself out there more. Even if I made an ass of myself, I would be at USC next year and I would probably never see most of these people ever again.
My nihilistic confidence was riding shotgun with me as I took a seat at the Spring Semester floor meeting with our RA Jen. Most of the faces in the room looked familiar, but I didn’t think much of the ones that didn’t. After all, I never really talked to these people anyways.
For those who have been following along, Ben wasn’t at this mandatory meeting. It’s a safe bet that he never saw the flyers and posters all over our floor advertising the time and place of the gathering seeing as how to my knowledge, he hadn’t stepped foot in the building since Parent’s weekend.
At this point, not that many people on our floor hung out with each other regularly, so it was a pretty quiet meeting other than one unfamiliar, outspoken, bordering on obnoxious guy. He wore one of those military hats that Fidel Castro was so fond of. His jeans were baggy and more middle-school goth than stylish. His black hoodie had holes in it. He would introduce himself to me as ‘OJ’ after the meeting. The short-lived legend of my Ping Pong table (which by now had been changed to a ‘beer pong table’ in the gossip) had already reached the ears of this new man on campus, and he invited himself over after the meeting to see it for himself. Accompanying him that night was Mandy, a brash girl who had dyed her hair an unnatural shade of red. She was more or less pretty and her creative and frequent use of profanity was a quality that I found admirable at the time.
Being in the judgement-free mindset of a 19 year old 400+ miles from home and in desperate need of friends, I volunteered the location of Ben’s beer fridge. My guests didn’t hesitate to enjoy the beer that I brought back from Pensacola with me. OJ and I played beer pong while Mandy sipped a weird ‘moonshine’ concoction from a plastic water bottle and sat in my fuzzy mushroom chair. They were both from Titusville, home of John F. Kennedy Space Center for those who don’t know the state of Florida. It was a mere 30-45 minutes northeast of UCF. OJ had enrolled for the Spring Semester and was lucky enough to find an open dorm room, vacated by the roommate of Randy the Ladies’ man. They were both nice enough people and even though I had yet to discover anything that I had in common with either of them, I enjoyed hanging out that night, breaking some rules and playing beer pong on the table that I had hoped would attract friends.
On a side note, when I questioned the contents of Mandy’s water bottle, she explained to me that it was ‘Apple Pie Moonshine.’ When I tried a sip, my teeth hurt for two days afterwards. The burning harshness of the moonshine was erased by the Paula Dean-esque quantities of sugar that made the liquid murky. The cinnamon was equally intense, but an Altoids addiction had thickened my tolerance so I found that part quite enjoyable.
We hung out in OJ’s room for a while after beer pong. Mandy salaciously talked about what she wanted to do to Randy the Ladies’ Man that night, seeing as how she was already in the same room. Mandy was either very easy, or at least wanted everyone to think that she was. In college, this is a popular state of being for girls.
OJ was more outgoing than his social skills warranted. It was an uncomfortable fulfillment of my wish for friends to gravitate to me. His friendship was forceful and unyielding and he was a mainstay in my daily life for the next several months. It brought me out of my shell, convinced me to drink too much, and led to more friendships with people I had nothing in common with. Strangers began showing up in my room enthusiastically petitioning me for a night of beer pong. OJ always accompanied them and I always obliged.
I befriended a gang of chain smokers that hung out in a black tar cloud in the courtyard between the dorm buildings. They were as brash and mischievous as OJ. Despite the horrendous effects of smoke on my allergies, I always stopped and chatted with them on the way to and from my dorm.
My drinking increased in frequency and quantity and my social life began bordering on exhaustion. When OJ started hitting on a tall blonde with a masculine chin who lived in our dorms, I was drafted almost daily to accompany him to visit her at Panera bread. At the time, my understanding of biology led me to believe that I needed all 10 of my daily hours of sleep as well as the frequent afternoon naps that became a mainstay in my schedule. When OJ’s Panera excursions encroached upon my siestas, our friendship hit a tipping point.
By this time, I had branched out well beyond the chain smokers and strangers that OJ brought to my door each week. I had found friends that actually almost had common interests and talking to them was so much easier than choking down cigarette smoke, so I was hanging out with OJ less and less.
When he left for Summer and I stayed behind, I only spoke with him on two more instances. He called me in the middle of the night once to tell me that George Carlin had died. That was one of our few common appreciations, though his fanaticism for the comedian exponentially dwarfed my own. Fall semester of Sophomore year, I met him in the courtyard of my dorm to hear some of the new jokes he was preparing for his stand up routine. He tried to mimic Carlin’s style but went overboard and ended up with some Sarah Silverman style duds that were 100% offensive and 0% funny. I was as courteous as I could be, but I don’t doubt that he felt the cold shoulder. I never saw him again after that night.
It wasn’t the lifelong friendship that I saw in the movies (and OJ certainly won’t be a groomsman as my wedding), but it was a defining relationship in my college experience. This one individual coerced me into drinking enough beer to be outgoing and friendly. The ping pong table would have collected dust until it’s eventual demise if not for OJ. Sometimes it takes someone obnoxious to just force you out of your shell. Even if you aren’t sure whether or not you like that person, I promise you, it’s worth letting them drink your beer.